A look at the 10 moments that have shaped the 2017 cycling season so far.
Half of the 2017 cycling season has been completed now and there’s already been countless incidences that will be remembered for years.
Cycling Weekly takes a look at the 10 moments that have shaped the season thus far.
Kwiatkowski wins a thrilling edition of Strade Bianche
One of cycling’s most romantic nuances is its five Monuments and the revered, iconic status that is reserved for them. But one of the sport’s biggest tragedies is that there’s no space to add an extra Monument.
Traditionalists may question why a sixth should be added, but you only need to watch Strade Bianche each year to see why some believe it deserves its place alongside the fabled five.
This year was no different. In wet and miserable conditions in Tuscany, the undulations and white roads (which is where the race takes its name from) decimated the field and four of the strongest riders in the world formed a select group: Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).
The latter jumped clear with 12km to go and soloed to an impressive victory.
What makes this race even more special is that very few races have a parcours that a great number of riders could win; as well as the one-day and Classics specialists, climbers and GC riders were also in the mix. Indeed, Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) was fifth and Thiabut Pinot (FDJ) ninth.
The best race on the calendar?
Peter Sagan’s attack at Milan-San Remo
The memorable image from this year’s Milan-San Remo is arguably the three-way tussle at the finish line (see above) between Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and eventual winner Michal Kwiatkowski.
But the biggest excitement happened with a kilometre still to climb of the Poggio. The sprinters still fancied their chances until Sagan, resplendent in his rainbow jerseys, pushed himself off the front of the peloton to devastating effect.
Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski hurried after him but Sagan had a 10 second lead at the bottom of the technical descent. As things transpired, the pair caught him, refused to share the lead-out duties and denied Sagan a sprint win.
A thrilling finish at Paris-Nice
The Spaniard had lost time on stage one, but clawed some of it back in the race’s time trial and then succeeded with a stunning attack on the penultimate stage to move within 31 seconds of the yellow jersey, which was held by Team Sky’s Sergio Henao.
With 52km to go on the final stage – and much like he did in 2016 against Geraint Thomas – Contador attacked. He held a 50 second advantage, enough to make him the virtual race leader, and Henao, with minimal support, struggled up Col d’Eze.
The drama was palpable, going down right to the finishing sprint in Nice, but Contador missed out on the title by two seconds, with Henao doing enough to bring back the deficit and secure the victory. A breathless final hour of racing.
Quintana and Thomas impressing at Tirreno-Adriatico
His win on Monte Terminillo, which effectively secured him the title, was superb. The race’s only mountain top finish, Quintana rode away from his rivals convincingly.
The next stage, on the road to Fermo, he attacked again on 22 percent gradients with apparent ease. Okay, he didn’t solo to victory there, but his climbing was as good as it had ever been.
Geraint Thomas, meanwhile, was equally as accomplished, and certainly more valiant. Gianni Moscon’s collapsed wheel in the opening team time trial ruled him out of the GC, but he won stage two, finish second behind Quintana on Terminillo and then was the first follow the Colombian on stage five.
That Thomas finished fifth after the nightmare of stage one when he was already 80 seconds in arrears to Quintana demonstrated once more his stage racing capabilities. What a travesty he was denied putting them to full use at the Giro d’Italia (see below).
Philippe Gilbert’s sensational Tour of Flanders win
The win of the year?
Billed as the battle between Sagan and Van Avermaet, it was Quick-Step Floors’ Philippe Gilbert who took the honours and, boy, did he do it some way.
Gilbert had been building form during the spring and a few commentators were suggesting that he could be a force at Flanders, but no one anticipated what he would go on to do.
On the re-introduced Muur, with 95km to go, a leading group of 14 riders clipped off the front thanks to the efforts of Tom Boonen and Gilbert.
On the Oude Kwaremont, 55km from the finish, Matteo Trentin and Boonen ramped up the pace. Gilbert took charge, ‘accidentally’ got a gap and, sensationally, time trialled to victory.
It was the most successful long-range attack since 1969 when Eddy Merckx rode away with 73km remaining.
Some were saying it was the greatest Ronde win ever. Nevertheless, it’s certainly established itself as a win in Flanders folklore, that’s for sure.
Anna van der Breggen’s Ardennes Classic dominance
This year was the first time that there was a full week of Ardennes Classic women’s races and there was only one rider who dominated: Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans).
The Olympic champion took victory at Amstel Gold, followed it up with more success at La Flèche Wallone in the week, and then rounded off her exceptional week with a further triumph at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Her tendency to know the exact moment to attack on the climbs, how to hold off her rivals (namely, her teammate Lizzie Deignan), and her sprint was the blueprint to her golden week.
To win one was great, to win two was special, but to win all three was astonishing.
As a side point, in every race, Deignan was second behind her teammate, and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (WM3 Energie) third. It is clear who the three best women riders on undulating parcours are, and aged just 22, Niewiadoma is surely going to win several Ardennes races.
Simon Yates’s Tour de Romandie stage win
As a British publication, we may well be slightly biased towards the Brits. But few – regardless of nationalities – would have failed to have been impressed by Simon Yates’ stage four win at the Tour de Romandie.
On the day’s penultimate climb, Yates counter-attacked an Ilnur Zakarin attack and charged up the road to catch the remains of the breakaway.
Richie Porte, admirably, joined Yates and the leaders, but only Yates could respond to Porte’s attack. With the two reaching the finishing kilometre together, Yates display experience and confidence that belied his age to sit on the Australian’s wheel and sprint to the victory and to take the leader’s jersey.
Porte may have grabbed the win on the next day’s time trial – remember, Yates isn’t a superb time triallist – but this victory was certification that the Brit no longer just has potential, but that he is absolutely one of the best world’s best climbers.
That Blockhaus crash at the Giro d’Italia
It’s a shame that a reckless, needless moment is included here, but it was one of the most important incidents at this year’s Giro d’Italia and, ultimately, had an impact on the final outcome
On stage nine, the race’s second mountain stage to Blockhaus, with 14.3km to go, a police motorbike was parked to the left of the road. Wilco Keldermen (Team Sunweb) hit the bike and behind five Sky riders tumbled, including Thomas and Mikel Landa, the team’s co-leaders. Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) also fell.
Up ahead, the GC battle continued unabated, Quintana winning the stage, but the story was the crash.
Thomas finished more than five minutes behind Quintana and Landa almost 27 minutes in arrears. Thomas eventually quit ahead of stage 13, his Giro hopes ruined.
As he said: “It shouldn’t have happened.”
Tom Dumoulin’s natural break
There’s six stages left of a Grand Tour that you lead by 2-41, and the next week is going to be crucial in your quest to win your maiden three-week race.
What do you not do? Among many answers, one is strip off and have a natural break. But that’s exactly what Tom Dumoulin did on stage 16.
With 30km remaining, Dumoulin got off his bike, did the deed, returned a minute later and got back racing. Movistar and Bahrain-Merida, however, kept racing, and Dumoulin lost more than two minutes.
He kept hold of the pink jersey but a substantial amount of his lead had been sacrificed for nature. But, we all know what happened next…
The nail-biting, riveting final stage time trial of the Giro d’Italia
They say time trials are boring to watch. Not stage 21 of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
After losing his lead on stage 19 to Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin lost further time on stage 20. He was 53 seconds behind the Colombian going into the 29.3km final day time trial into Milan.
Quintana knew he would have to ride the best TT of his life to keep hold of the maglia rosa. After a tense day of racing, Dumoulin finished second, 1:24 ahead of Quintana to claim the Giro. It was captivating viewing.
A few people mooted the point afterwards and it will be repeated here: Christian Prudhomme, the Tour de France race director, will surely have been watching wishing he could have a final stage TT in Le Grand Boucle.
The fast men and traditionalists might not be happy to do a win with the processional Champs-Élysées sprint, but at least it would keep suspense right up until the race’s final second.